Kids’ Summer Fun on a Budget

Keeping the kids entertained while on summer break can be an expensive endeavor. Registrations for summer camps, day care and recreation programs are only the tip of the iceberg. You also need to consider transportation costs to and from these programs that you don’t normally attend during the school year.


But summer break doesn’t have to break your budget. You can still afford to take some quality family time-and you can do it all on a dime. Here are some great ideas to keep your children entertained while you are at work, and some fun family activities, all of which we consider cheap or free!
  1. Have a camp out in your yard.If you can’t take time off work this summer, take advantage of the great weather and go camping in your own backyard. Put away the electronics and enjoy nature with the convenience of your own bathroom being just a few feet away.
  2. Enjoy free movies. Many movie theaters today host free movies on weekday mornings. Ask your local theater for a schedule and get there early. Seats fill quickly!
  3. Go to a movie or concert in the park. Local resorts, ballparks, and recreation departments offer movies and concerts featuring local musicians. Check the local or neighborhood sections of your newspaper for more information. (Parkville has a free concert series in May and June)
  4. Be a tourist in your hometown.Get to know your town a little bit more by visiting the local (free!) museums and other attractions. You might be surprised by what you find.
  5. Have a family boot camp. Exercise isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your soul too. Agree on an exercise as a family-whether it’s karate, yoga, or strength training-and find instructional videos on YouTube. Participating as a family can help build self-esteem and make your family closer.
  6. Send the kids to church camp.Many churches offer free or cheap day camps for working parents. Even if you don’t attend the church, this is a great opportunity to broaden your children’s horizons and introduce them to different ways of thinking in addition to giving them an opportunity to meet new friends.
  7. Trade kids for a craft day.Work out an arrangement with another parent or two. Each household sponsors a craft day once a week for a month. One week, all the children visit your house and complete a craft you developed. The next week, it’s another parent’s turn.
  8. Visit the library. Free to residents, the library offers numerous programs to help keep kids busy. And even if you don’t find a program that interests your child or your family, you just might find a few books you’ll like!
  9. Redeem report card rewards.Bowling alleys, pizza joints, movie theaters and more offer free or discounted admissions for students who earned a high grade point average on their report card. Do some research and then redeem those rewards!
  10. Make your own water park. If you have grass available to you, set up sprinklers, fill up some squirt bottles and water balloons, lay out the camping tarp, and get the hose ready. Let your kids of all ages loose on a homemade water day.
Summer doesn’t have to take a lot out of your pocketbook. It just takes a little bit of creativity and a little effort to find activities that the whole family can enjoy, while mom and dad enjoy a little budget relief. Have a great summer! 

Friday the 13th….Unlucky or Lucky?

Today is Friday the 13th.  Not only is it a day many superstitious folks believe is unlucky, but there is also a full moon.  The next time that will happen is in August 2049.  So, a rare event indeed.  

The basis of considering Friday the 13th as unlucky goes back hundreds – or even thousands – of years.  These superstitions are based on historically bad things happening on Fridays or on the 13th, therefore Friday the 13th is doubly bad in this superstition.  

There is also a school of thought, based on numerology, that 13 is a lucky number.  So which is it?

As with many things in life, it depends on your point of view.  You can choose to believe it is lucky or unlucky.  And, as with many choices in life, your point of view can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Which, brings me to personal finance…the whole point of this blog, right?  Much of our financial situations can be boiled down to our points of view.  Of course, there are exceptions, such as the loss of a job or other situation that causes your income to be reduced.  Assuming you are employed and still feel you are suffering financially, take a look at how you view your money and the use of it.

  1. Do you know exactly how much you have and where all the money goes?  In other words, do you have a budget?  A budget is a road map for your finances and you should have a good grasp of the geography.
  2. Is your money going to necessities? If you are spending simply because you want something (rather than truly needing it), you may need to reevaluate your priorities. Learn to be frugal.
  3. Are you living within your means?  Don’t spend more than you have.  Period.  If you have medical bills or something unexpected that you have to spend money on, try and work out a payment plan with the provider.
  4. Are you putting any money into savings?  Even if it’s only a few dollars every pay period, you should be able to put some money aside for emergencies.  Go back to #2 and see where you can shave off a few dollars of expenses to put into savings.

If you can answer yes to all of the above questions, you’re probably on the right path.  If not, maybe it’s time to change your point of view, and with it your “luck.”  Destinations Credit Union is here to help you with your finances any time!

Unbundle For Summer Savings!

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union

One of the most rewarding places to save money every month is in recurring expenses. They’re the easiest to budget for because they are the most consistent. You might not be able to do much about your electric, gas, or water bills. You can, though, cut your bills for TV service, Internet access and home phone service just by picking up the phone.

There is only one media company that doesn’t push bundled service: Time-Warner. Comcast will soon buy them out and they still use a hard sell for their bundled services. With AT&T’s proposed buyout of DirectTV, more Americans will be able to get their TV, Internet, and phone service all from the same company. So-called “triple play” plans offer one-bill convenience and some savings over the individual price of all three. Service providers love these plans because it’s an easy way to sell existing products. But are they better for consumers?

There are three questions you can ask yourself to decide whether you want to get all three services from the same provider. Are you better off breaking up with the bundle? Let’s take a look.

1) Do you need all three services?

This is the easiest way to save money on the cable bill. No matter the savings for putting all three services together, canceling one of them will lower the cost of your bill. If you can do without one of these services, you can start unbundling right away.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that 40% of American homes have only wireless phones. Think about the last time you used your land line for something that wasn’t a telemarketer. Popular voice-over-IP services, like Google Voice, can also provide free alternatives to land lines. If you can do without it, you will save money.

Likewise, television is something a lot of families are learning to do without. An over-the-air antenna can provide local news, sports, and live events. Services like Netflix and Amazon Instant can fill the entertainment void. Popular HBO shows like “Game of Thrones” aren’t yet available online but some bars and restaurants hold watch parties so you can still get your fix.

Replacing high-speed Internet can be tricky. If you’re relying on streaming video services for entertainment, you can’t do without. Alternative plans, like DSL or mobile broadband, can be cheaper if your data usage is low. There’s just not a great deal of competition among broadband Internet providers in most parts of the country.

2) Are you still in your promotional rate?

Cable companies came up with a brilliant plan several years ago. They would make short-term contracts at reasonable prices. After a year, the price would skyrocket. One of two things would happen. Either customers would shrug and continue paying their bill or they would call and complain. This call would give the cable company an opportunity to sell the customer on more expensive services. Either way, the company comes out on top.

If you haven’t done so in a while, it might be time to check up on your cable bill. If it’s not the rate you remember signing up for, you might have better luck negotiating a lower rate for individual services. Telling a company you’d like to drop some services will likely lead to a conversation about retention of you as a customer. You may get an offer of a new promotional rate. It’s up to you whether that rate justifies the cost or not. Bear in mind, though, that you won’t get what you don’t ask for. A Consumer Reports study found that only 30% of cable bundle subscribers tried to negotiate a lower rate. Of that 30%, though, 90% got some accommodation.

If you’re still under a promotional rate, you can still consider breaking up your bundle. You may have to pay a termination fee, and the rate you pay for other services will likely go up. It will still be cheaper in many instances to cancel an unnecessary service than to maintain it.

3) Can you get cheaper alternatives from other providers?

If you and your family can’t live without the services bundled into your cable bill, investigate a few alternatives. Take a look at competitors and decide if you’re getting the best deal. This is a two-step process.

Step one is to jot down the total amount you’re paying for cable, Internet, and television. That’s the target number in your comparison shopping. You don’t need to figure out the cost of each individual service. You can keep these services “bundled” in your budget.

The second step is to research prices from competitors and plug them into your budget. Be sure to subtract what you would save from your bundle discount. The amount you can save by losing the land line and finding a cheaper TV option could shock you. You might find your net spending on these utilities drops as much as $60 per month.

Negotiating with cable companies is frustrating and time-consuming; keep focused on your reward. That $60 a month might not seem like much, but it could be a contributor to getting out of debt or the start of a savings plan. It’s an extra $720 in your pocket each year, which is a great way to start saving. No strings attached!

20 Ways To Celebrate Father’s Day- Without Breaking The Bank!

We all want to show our dads that we care on Father’s Day. Many people panic and run straight for the ties. But unless your father is a necktie aficionado and you can land him the rarest of rare finds in men’s fashion, you may want to consider something else that shows how well you know and appreciate your dad. Here are 20 ways you can honor your father this Father’s Day.

  1. Get fishing licenses for both of you and go fishing!
  2. College mascot-branded duct tape for the sports fan/handyman.
  3. Take in a minor league baseball game.
  4. Detail his car with a vinyl cleaner (Armor All) and a vacuum.
  5. Take a trip to the driving range together.
  6. Dust and sort his toolbox – don’t forget to label the wrenches and sockets!
  7. Tackle the mowing, raking or other yard work.
  8. Personalized coffee mug – write on a blank mug with sharpies, bake at 450 for 30 minutes!
  9. Build your own BBQ rub or sauce using dad’s favorite flavors.
  10. Give the grill a thorough cleaning.
  11. Clean and organize the shed or garage – it’s probably been on his to-do list all year!
  12. Grab a few of his favorite classic movies on DVD or Blu-Ray (but make sure he has a Blu-Ray player first!).
  13. Pick up a few cuts of meat and ask him to teach you how to grill them.
  14. Offer him a “tech tutorial” on how to better use a device he already owns.
  15. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity together – working with him to improve your community!
  16.  Find a local historical site and arrange a walking tour.
  17. Build something with him – like a bird house or a spice rack.
  18. Pack a picnic lunch and head to a local park!
  19. Just spend time with him doing the things he likes to do.
  20. Put a new spin on the old necktie cliché – buy a old necktie at a thrift store, do a web search for “DIY Necktie Eyeglass case” and follow the instructions to make this unique gift. Buy a pair of sunglasses to put inside before you give it to him. 

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union

Social Media Beware


Social media is more popular than ever, and new platforms seem to rise up out of virtual obscurity and into popularity almost immediately. Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube, Friendster, SlideShare … it seems like there is a social media platform for everyone. But as a young adult looking to enter the workforce soon, you’d be wise to approach all social media with caution.

According to a 2009 CareerBuilder survey, 45 percent of employers use social networking sites to find out more about job candidates. What does this mean for you? Those pictures from last weekend’s party or the political rants that frequent your wall could turn up years from now and might hurt your chances of getting a job.

Here are some tips to safe social networking that you should implement now:

  • If it’s not for your grandmother’s eyes, don’t post it.
  • Change your settings so photos of you won’t post unless you first approve them.
  • Others can see your friends, followers, and who you’re following. Be selective. If someone doesn’t display your values and the values you hope to portray to others, remove them from your friends list.
  • Online content is forever, whether you “clean up” your profile or not. Anyone can grab a screen shot of something you’ve posted and use it later. You’ve seen the posts listing some of the most ridiculous status updates. Don’t be included on one of those lists.

Social media can be a great coup to your job search, if you use professional sites like LinkedIn. And when used with caution, platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and even Facebook can help. But they all should be accompanied with some pause and caution before posting anything. So be professional, and happy job hunting!

Financial Self Defense: Ransomware and Mobile Devices


One moment, you’re surfing the Internet.  A minute later, a pop-up shows your files have been taken hostage and that you’re required to pay a $300 ransom to have them released back to you.  You stare at the screen in disbelief.  How is this possible, especially considering you are on your mobile device?

Ransomware – malware that accesses your computer system and blocks access to your files until a ransom is paid to restore access all while stealing your payment information – has been becoming more prevalent among PC users.  While these attacks typically focused solely on PCs, they are now adapting to include mobile devices.  That’s right, the very same mobile devices you use to access your credit union accounts for checking balances, transfer funds and make payments.

An example of a Russian-based mobile device ransomware is called “Svpeng.” It focuses on tactics for infecting mobile phones and mobile banking applications. It infects the device with a phishing window when the application is opened. This overlay attack is used to steal online banking information as the malware pretends to be the application’s login screen.  The user enters login and password information, which is then stolen by the hackers.  Once they have access to the account, they can control the account. Svpeng also phishes through Google Play if that is on the mobile device.

This tactic also involves SMS messages being sent to two Russian banks to determine if the phone number of the device is connected to any payment cards.   If a card is indeed connected to a number, the hackers use commands through the device to transfer the victim’s money into their own accounts. While Svpeng has currently been seen only in Russia, it is expected to expand into other countries; one of the features of the ransomware checks the mobile device’s language settings to determine the appropriate language to use for the attack.

As time goes on, other PC-based ransomware programs may also be adapted for mobile devices or more ransomware programs that are specifically designed for mobile devices may be created. Hackers are always looking for ways to evolve their tactics in hopes of stealing more information and making immediate profits.  Svpeng, for example, had 50 modifications to its malware within a three-month period.   

How does this type of malware get onto a PC or a mobile device?  It could be through a “drive-by download” where malicious software is downloaded without the user even knowing about it. This happens as the user surfs the Internet without a care, yet comes across a compromised Web page or clicks to a website through an HTML-based email.   It could have been downloaded through a phishing email, which appears to be from a credit union, yet is a fake email linking to a compromised Web page.  The ransomware could also come through an email attachment that is malicious.

After the infection occurs on the mobile device or PC, the overlay or ransomware tactics are used as was described with Svpeng.   That way the hackers can either directly steal the login and password information when the credit union account is accessed, or the user is blackmailed by a direct ransomware attack to send money to unlock the mobile device.

Many of the ways ransomware can be prevented from infecting a PC are the same for preventing on a mobile device.  Make sure data on a mobile device is regularly backed up. This will help with recovering information if the device is hijacked.  Make sure an antivirus program is running on the mobile device. Follow safe Web browsing habits.  Block suspicious emails.

Don’t download data or apps from questionable sources. Don’t “jailbreak” a device where built-in controls and security features are overridden; this removes an additional layer of protection against ransomware attacks.

If you think your mobile device has become a victim of ransomware, you can try to remove it by running a virus scan through mobile antivirus software. Don’t pay any ransom because it won’t guarantee the release of your data and you are giving additional payment information to the hackers.  If none of these work, talk with your mobile device or cellular provider and/or their tech support. Of course, notify your credit union to monitor your accounts for any potentially fraudulent activity.

3 Financial Decisions To Make Before Interest Rates Start To Climb


By all indications, interest rates are headed back up. Every economic indicator, from employment reports to bond market performance, points in this direction. If you’ve been watching financial news shows, you’ve definitely heard this prediction. Yet to most observers, it’s somewhat abstract and far away. Sure, interest rates are going up; so what? And when?

You’ve no doubt heard that if you’re thinking about refinancing your home or buying a new one, now is the key time. That’s true, but that’s not the whole story. Here are three other financial decisions that can save you money in the long run if you make them soon.

1.) Consolidating your unsecured debt

  

If you’re carrying unsecured debt (credit cards, personal loans, or payday loans), you might find yourself paying a lot more soon. Don’t assume you are locked into your current rate. Most often, these kinds of debts use an adjustable interest rate. How much it costs to service your credit card debt is determined, among other factors, by the prime rate as set by the Federal Reserve. As the interest rates that the central bank charges other financial institutions rise, the rate your credit card provider charges you will probably also rise. (Note:  Destinations Credit Union’s MasterCard is a fixed interest rate, meaning it will not go up automatically when rates rise.)

If you owe $7,000 on your credit cards (the American household average), a one percent change in the interest rate would mean an increase of $70 to your balance every month. That could mean an increase of as much as $15 on minimum monthly payments. That’s a tough hit, and it will also just make it harder to dig yourself out of debt trouble.

It’s best to pay off this debt as quickly as possible. If you have a large balance, though, consider a debt consolidation loan. These loans have fixed interest rates, so your debt won’t get more expensive in response to changes in the economy. Working with a representative from your Destinations Credit Union can keep this cost from consuming a bigger portion of your budget.

2.) Buying a new car

  

If you’ve been on the fence about upgrading your personal transportation or getting another vehicle for a new driver, the coming interest rate rise might be the final push you need. The rates that lenders can offer on car loans are influenced by the prime rate, too. An increase in the prime rate means car loans are going to get more expensive, thus decreasing your buying power.

  

For a $20,000 car, a one percent increase in interest rates means paying $10 more a month on a 5-year car loan. It means paying $400 more over the lifetime of the loan. That’s a direct decrease in the amount of car you can afford. Worse yet, dealerships may run promotions promising no interest financing for a portion of the loan. These promotions almost always revert to an adjustable rate based, in part, on the prime rate.

  

As a credit union member, you can get access to fixed rate auto loans that allow you to get the most car for your money. You can also plan with confidence knowing the portion of your budget devoted to paying your car note. You can even negotiate from a position of power knowing you’ve got financing squared away with a lender who’s got your back.

  

3.) Self-directed retirement planning

  

If you take personal care of your retirement funds, you need to prepare yourself for the market changes that will result from rising interest rates. These rates will most likely be coupled with a decrease in bond rates. This change will send brokerage investors running from long-term growth bonds into securities and commodities. This market shift will likely produce a great deal of short-term instability, as speculators try to time the shift in the market. The resulting market volatility can place your retirement savings at risk.

  

As the rates that lenders charge for loans go up, though, so does the rate they provide their investors. The interest rates you can earn on certificates and club savings accounts will go up in response to changes in the prime rate. Best of all, money you put into these accounts will be safe from the volatility of the market as changes occur in macroeconomic policy. When things have settled down, you can pull the money out of these accounts and put it into a more growth-oriented investment.

  

It’s easy to think of the decisions of the Federal Reserve as occurring in another separate world. The events of Washington, DC can seem far removed from your community. The truth is, in an increasingly interconnected world, timing your personal decisions to take advantage of changes in policy can save (or make) you money in the long term. This may not be enough motivation to buy a car you don’t need or consolidate a $100 credit card bill. But, if you’re making big financial decisions, you need to be smart about your timing and act fast. Stop by Destinations Credit Union’s office to see how we can help you before it’s too late!